North Carolina thrives under Marshall plan

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Tar Heel Nation will need to send Larry Drew II a Thank You card. His departure may be the best thing to happen to North Carolina since Matt Doherty got fired.

The more Kendall Marshall, the better.

The freshman point guard assumed Drew’s starting role Jan. 18 vs. Clemson – two days after a 20-point thrashing by Georgia Tech and the start of the current five-game win streak – but Sunday’s 89-69 win against Florida State was the first time Marshall had things all to himself since Drew abruptly left Friday.

And he put on quite a show, much to the fans’ delight.

Marshall played 36 minutes, scored nine points and dished 16 assists, the most by any Heel in ACC play and the best since Raymond Felton had 18 vs. George Mason in 2003.

“We had a difficult time keeping him in front of us,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. “He just seems to be extremely clever with the ball, has his head up and is almost a throwback to those guys who seem to always know where his teammates are.”

But it wasn’t just the assist numbers. The Heels actually look like a Roy Williams team again – fast, high scoring and scoring efficiently.

They scored 1.24 points per possession (the fifth straight game they’ve topped 100) against the ACC’s best defense. Guys were getting good looks (Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Dexter Strickland all hit double figures and shot well) and they capitalized on ‘em.

Expecting  Marshall to play at this level for every game is asking a bit much. But it’s clear he’s comfortable and thriving. Sometimes that’s enough.

“We just wanted to come out here with a swagger,” Marshall said afterward, “with an edge to us and basically show that we’re still North Carolina, that one player doesn’t make our program.”

And to think this is all coming into play just days before Wednesday showdown at Duke. Talk about perfect timing.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.